Concert Reviews

PJ Harvey at Massey Hall

Photographs by Randall Vasquez.

England’s PJ Harvey last played Toronto 13 years ago at the Phoenix.  The only time I’ve seen Polly Jean Harvey and her band was 24 years ago in support of her ferocious sophomore album, Rid of Me.  To say her return to the city in the perfect confines that is Massey Hall was feverishly anticipated would be a gross understatement, as tickets for her biggest Toronto headlining show sold out quickly.

Touring behind last year’s The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey brought a 9-piece band to deliver a mesmerizing 100 minutes with the bulk of the set devoted to her most recent work.

Marching single-file on-stage while performing “Chain of Keys” things soon were drastically different from what I remember, but no less riveting.  In 1993, Harvey was a guitar-slinging howler that commanded the stage with sheer power from her hands and lungs perched behind the mic.  Fast forward and she has become a true performer, effectively adding drama to her bleak observations of the world in its current state.  She still commanded the full Hall but now she wielded a sax, holding it defiantly in the air as she sang.

She played all but one track off The Hope Six Demolition Project and the big band accompanying her breathed a heft of life into the songs giving a new appreciation for the album.  The band was versatile and made everything sound immense.  “The Ministry of Defense” turned into a dirgy rocker that shook the hall while “Dollar Dollar” showcased Harvey’s vocals nicely.

Stage banter was kept to a bare minimum and when Harvey finally paused to thank the crowd and introduce the band, which included long-time collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parrish, the pent-up crowd truly erupted.

And then Harvey erupted, reaching back to 1993 and ripping out a fierce “50 Ft. Queenie” which will remain the single most awesome thing I’ve witnessed at Massey Hall for some time.  The place went wild and would remain out of their seats for the rest of the night as Harvey delivered riveting versions of “Down By The Water” and “To Bring You My Love”.

A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” would kick off the encore which ended as the night began, with the band marching off single-file to close out “The Last Living Rose” and a magical night for those lucky enough to have witnessed.

About author

Concert reviewer at Live in Limbo.